I thought that it was the Lake I wanted to see, to be there one last time after an absence of more than half a century. My brother's plan, now imminent, to move to another state meant that for the first time in a hundred years there would be no member of our family living in the central Massachusetts city in which I had been born and grown up and therefore no reason for me to visit the area again.
My dad is gone now but the memory of fishing with him, a sweet remembrance of the childhood of the 1950s, stays with me, becoming sweeter still as time softens the edges and wistful thoughts sooth a sense of loss. As I coast through my seventieth year the memory is more a feeling than a clear picture or recollection of events. The sweetness itself is a simple product of our time together, just he and I as the bond that went beyond requited love emerged.
Lake Singletary, somewhere outside of Worcester, is where we most often fished. Such happy times, perhaps more treasured both then and now since he had little free time back then, his work to support his family requiring twelve hour days six days a week, and so the more special to have his attention.
Images flash incomplete in my memory. My dad with his fishing license pinned to the front of his cap, the back of his head as he bends forward to untangle again my fishing line, his long cast to the deeper water where he hoped to catch a larger fish.
He first took me fishing when I was four or five years old, patiently teaching me how to bait my hook or cast my line. With a worm as my bait I fished close to the shore for panfish which we called kivvers, while my dad cast further out hoping to land a bass or pickerel using a shiner for bait. At the end of the morning we brought home the largest of the kivvers and cleaned and scaled and then fried them. Sometimes my grandmother who lived with us would instead use them in a fish chowder, a thin milky dish with potatoes and a bit of onion.
Those summer Sunday mornings when we were to fish could hardly arrive fast enough, a stop at the local bait shop and then on to the quiet country roads, the trip to the Lake seemingly a long ride to a distant destination. Somewhere along the way we passed a small pond on the right, just before the road forked. In the space at the base of the "v" formed by the forking roads there stood a small wooden building, a sort of general store one might find in such a rural setting.
A few times rather than continuing on to Lake Singletary we stopped and fished at this nameless pond, simply parking along the side of the road. There were one or two rowboats for rent that lay on the shore and we would go into the small store to pay the rental fee and get the oars which were kept inside. There was a rickety screen door that closed with a slam by means of a coiled spring and right next to the door was a small display that sold snacks. I usually could persuade my dad to buy a bag of Cheese Doodles and we would load fishing gear, bait, and Doodles into our craft and set out.
My dad would row until we were midway between shore and a small wooded island which stood in the middle of the pond and then he would drop anchor -- a bucket filled with hardened cement with a rope tied round the bucket's handle.
I thought this all a great adventure, a voyage aboard a vessel, fishing further away from shore than the child I was could hope to cast, and sharing Cheese Doodles with my dad, the pond's water barely rinsing our hands of the combination of worm castings and fluids and of the slippery smell of fish, the orange dusty cheese flavoring coloring our fingers.
The pond had kivvers but primarily there were yellow perch, a more desirable fish to catch and bring home, more easily cleaned, fewer bones and better taste. Once I stood up in the boat and urinated over the side, a bold and what at the time seemed a dangerous maneuver. And I was alone with my dad, in the boat, nowhere for either of us to go. All of this made our times at the small pond special to me then and in my memory.
A few weeks before my brother's move we chose a day for me to come to his house so as to help out where I could and to take back a few things that were our folks'. This was likely the last time I might be able to conveniently go to Lake Singletary so I left home a couple of hours early and set off first for that final rendezvous with the Lake and the memories of my childhood self and of that young man who was my dad.
I recalled our fishing spot as a spit of land directly off the rural road, water on both sides of that small peninsula, more on the left, and a large expanse of water out beyond the land's edge with a house or two on the distant shore. Our old car was parked on the dirt and fishing gear unloaded.
My drive from Worcester took far less time than expected, in part because of the newer roads that now exist but primarily, I am certain, due to the difference between childhood impatience and adult reality. The final leg of the journey, though, still meandered along a simple country lane. I looked about as I drove it, seeking anything that might present as familiar, anything that would provoke childhood memory but none appeared.
I rounded a gentle curve in the road and there just ahead the road forked, a small building stood in the fork and along the road's right was the small pond. Immediately, spontaneously, I said aloud, almost as a gasp, "Oh! There it is".
There was now a small gravel parking area next to the pond, large enough for just a car or two. I pulled in, sat still for a moment, and got out. I stood quietly, looking at the pond, memory images flashing rapidly and without order. I then walked slowly about, taking in the entire scene, surprised by how small the pond was and how close to shore the island lay. There were no rowboats at the pond's edge, there was now a metal guard rail where the road curved, the store was of brick construction and appeared to sell used items, but the pond and the island were unchanged.
Again involuntarily I spoke, aloud but softly so, to nobody but myself, "Well, I declare. Well, I declare."
I had never said that ever before but I knew just from where it came; a favorite John Wayne western, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. In the movie the character played by Jimmy Stewart is an elderly U. S. Senator who has traveled from Washington to attend the funeral of a local who is to be buried in a pauper's grave. The editor of the town's newspaper demands to know the reason for such a prominent man to travel so far. Stewart finally agrees to tell the story which begins decades earlier when as a young man, well before the railroad had come to town, he arrived by stage.
The simple pine coffin of his friend lay in the rear of a livery where there was also a dust covered stagecoach. As Stewart begins his story he realizes the old stagecoach is the very one that had carried him there and for a moment he is brought back in his mind to a younger self when life was a journey with limitless possibilities and whose end was beyond imaging and says, "Well, I declare. Well, I declare." How curious that some odd circuit in my brain had summoned those words.
In the gravel lot where I had parked there stood a small and attractive wooden sign which identified the body of water as Brierly Pond. Beneath the sign were planted some well-tended flowers. I walked to the water's edge and squatting down, dipped my hand in the pond's water and slowly swirled it about, thinking this was the same water in which my dad and I had rinsed our hands. After a bit I stood up, nodded to who or what I do not know, and slowly returned to my car.
I drove on to Lake Singletary which was surprisingly nearby. The jutting bit of land was there on the left as I had recalled, now with the added amenity of a blacktopped parking area for six or eight cars. A boat launch had likewise been constructed. A middle-aged man sat in a lawn chair near the shore at about the spot where I most often had fished. There was a pole with its line in the water next to him but he appeared to be happy simply enjoying the day and less interested in whether or not the fish were biting.
I walked about, seeking memories. The water was invitingly clear and I placed a hand in it for a moment's connection to the past. I returned to my car and drove off, having concluded my visit to the Lake and knowing I was unlikely ever to return.
Driving past Brierly Pond, now on my left as I headed to my brother's home I slowed down, looked at it once more, but did not stop.
Originally published in Peninsula Pulse.